Aspenites Mobilize for Large Effort to Aid Houston Pets
BY CHAD ABRAHAM
A Mercedes van laden with pallets of dog and cat food, leashes, collars, cat litter, toys and other assorted items is en route from Aspen to Houston, where a board member of the nonprofit that supports the Aspen Animal Shelter is helping care for hundreds of dogs in the flood-ravaged city.
After Hurricane Harvey, shelter executive director Seth Sachson, Bland Nesbit, a board member of Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter, and renowned artist Christopher Martin of Aspen, a longtime supporter of the facility, put their heads together on how to aid pets in the city.
“We said at the least, let’s get some supplies [to Houston] and bring back some animals,” Sachson said.
Martin called two days later seeking a way to help. His vans regularly deliver art between Dallas and Aspen, but he has done much more than simply provide transportation for the effort. As his wife, Stacie, and their two children helped load bag after bag, along with innumerable cans of wet dog and cat grub on Wednesday afternoon, the paint-splattered Martin handed Sachson a check for $18,500.
Martin raised the money by selling nearly 30 paintings, including nine that sold in a single night. Eighteen more pieces of art created since the hurricane, which dumped an astonishing 50 inches of rain in places, didn’t last much longer. Martin, whose family recently adopted a “fantastic” dog from the shelter, has also donated to the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“What a disaster down there,” he said. “I thought it was a cool idea to bring some animals back to the valley from that.”
The effort is being done under the umbrella of the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, which Sachson said is running a tight ship, including posting Nesbit at a gate Wednesday to monitor people coming and going.
But bringing animals back to the valley for adoption has been hampered partly because of a distemper outbreak among dogs being housed at the arena in downtown Houston where Nesbit is assisting. Mike Waters, a local pilot, has offered to fly supplies to Houston and return with dogs. That may happen in a few weeks, Sachson said, after the dogs are monitored to ensure the distemper has run its course.
“We don’t want to be irresponsible so we’re going to follow whatever rules they put in place,” he said.
Sachson said one reason the effort is happening now was to allow time for owners to reunite with their pets. “We do not want to take dogs out of Texas that still have families searching for them,” he said. “That’s a bad situation, and then they’re all the way in Colorado.”
But Nesbit described heartwarming stories of families offering foster care for pets in the meantime. A sweet pit bull rolled over for a belly scratch when his foster family greeted him, eliciting tears and cheers from onlookers, she said.
Nesbit, who volunteered in a similar capacity after Hurricane Katrina, reported meeting fellow volunteers from all over the country.
The animals have come from all over Houston and include both strays and pets owned by people. Out of 600 or so in the arena originally, only a couple of dozen have been reunited with their owners.
Nesbit called that “really sad” but noted the number of animals is now around 300 thanks to foster families.
“A lot of owners don’t know where their dogs are, [and] some don’t have the means to take their dogs back,” she said. “They don’t have the money, they don’t have their houses.”
Part of the money raised by Martin will go toward covering the cost of the food purchased from the Aspen shelter’s wholesale distributor, and other funds could be donated to the Best Friends group.
“It’s been just a really feel-good movement, and at the end of the day, the animals are going to benefit,” Sachson said. “It’s brought the community together.”
Pallets of food, including a large donation by Aspen’s Only Natural Pet store, took up most of the shelter’s lobby Tuesday, a sight that, in turn, led to even more donations, Sachson said.
Customers came in to pick up their dogs from boarding and grooming, saw the effort under way, “and we accumulated about $1,000 in donations since [Tuesday] just because the food was in the lobby,” he said. “How cool is that?”